Getting your body in shape is, in principle, a fairly simple premise. You work out, you eat right, you get fit. (Okay, we all know what we need to do. Actually doing it is a topic for another discussion.)
But getting your brain in shape—and keeping it there—is something else to consider. Proper maintenance of the brain is just as important to your overall health. And tending to your mental fitness might help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
In addition to the physical toll of Alzheimer’s, there’s a financial burden too. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, on average Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s or other dementias paid $10,315 out of pocket annually for health care and long-term care services not covered by other sources.
To be clear, there’s no definitive answer on whether or not Alzheimer’s is preventable. According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, there’s a “need for more large-scale studies, but promising research is under way.”
Alzheimer’s Association points out that the good news is there are things you can do today to maintain and improve your brain health.
Activate your brain
An active mind is a healthy mind. Do a crossword puzzle, play a strategic game of cards like bridge, or read an in-depth book on a topic of interest. Want bigger challenges? Enroll in a class at a local community college. Take up painting or sculpting. Learn a new craft, like woodworking or photography. Just commit to lifelong learning.
Eat brain food
Research is not definitive, but there’s reason to believe eating right could positively impact cognitive function. The Alzheimer’s Association offers two recommendations: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diets. The DASH diet suggests eating foods lower in saturated fat and cholesterol while focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish and poultry. The Mediterranean diet takes a similar approach and proposes replacing butter with healthy fats like olive oil and seasoning food with herbs instead of salt. Both diets can help reduce heart disease while possibly reducing the risk of dementia.
Physical activity of any kind is good for you—and good for your brain. It’s associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. For a “one-two punch,” combine exercise with mental stimulation. Take a walk with a friend (human or canine variety are great) or a grandkid. Sign up for a dance class or join an exercise group. Walk a round of golf. Tend a garden. Just choose something you enjoy. And consult your doctor before starting.
Maintaining social relationships may support brain health. Staying connected to family is important, and so is community involvement. Start with activities you enjoy. Volunteer at a local animal shelter. Take a cooking class with friends. Start a book club or join a travel group. Just by participating, you’ll engage your brain in beneficial ways. As the Alzheimer’s Association points out, “Social engagement is associated with reduced rates of disability and mortality, and may also reduce risk for depression…and possibly delay the onset of dementia.” And, as you’ve hopefully learned from this post, staying connected online may have a positive impact on your health as well
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